Partnership Increases Capacity in Agricultural Safety on the Navajo Nation

Posted on by Alyssa Llamas, BS; María Sofía Lioce, M.D., M.S.; and Viji Potula, Ph.D.
Shiprock Agency. Photo © Thinkstock.

Farming and ranching are important to the livelihood and culture of the Navajo Nation. Nearly all families living on the 27, 000 square mile reservation are involved in agriculture.1 Many of them use traditional farming practices that do not include powered machinery. However, an increasing number of farmers are changing to cash crops and larger-scale farming, which require tractors and other equipment. Also, more ranchers are raising cattle rather than sheep, a shift from traditional Navajo ranching.1 As Navajo farmers and ranchers take on new agricultural activities, it is important that they receive training on safe handling of potentially dangerous equipment and livestock.

After adjusting for age, education, wage level, and gender, injury rates were 42% higher for American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) workers than for white workers.3 American Indians experience more than twice the number of farm-related injury deaths than non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics combined.1 From 2003-2010, 292 AI/AN were killed on the job – an average of 37 deaths each year.2 The second highest number of fatalities occurred in the agriculture/forestry/fishing sector with 47 deaths.2

Few worker safety and health studies have focused on AI/AN. Data on work-related injuries and illnesses in AI/AN are also limited. The Southwestern Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education (SW Ag Center) at the University of Texas Health Northeast – funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – partnered with the Navajo Nation to determine how to best maximize resources and build and strengthen their capacity to improve the safety and health of agricultural workers.

Researchers from SW Ag Center worked with Navajo farmers and ranchers of Shiprock Agency, the largest community on the Navajo Nation, to improve their ability to undertake a comprehensive planning and research process to identify, address, and reduce agricultural injury. A stakeholder group of Navajo farmers, ranchers, agricultural agency representatives, and government officials learned how to develop and administer a survey; interpret survey results; and design, implement, and evaluate safety interventions.

This partnership between the community representatives and researchers was essential to improving agricultural safety and health on the Navajo Nation. Both groups learned from each other. The project partners provided valuable input about the ideas, beliefs, practices, and needs important to Shiprock Agency. To help increase participation, the survey was translated into Navajo. Researchers provided expertise on survey design and trained ten community members on data collection.1 This joint effort resulted in a culturally sensitive, high-quality survey.

The survey results helped all involved understand the agricultural safety and health issues of the communities in which they worked. They also reinforced the value of using respected opinion-leaders to effectively communicate safety and health information.

The survey results sparked interest in the community. More members joined the stakeholder group and others voiced their readiness for safety interventions. With guidance from the researchers, the group developed two safety training programs focused on livestock handling and pesticide use. The evaluation showed significant improvements in trainees’ attitudes on safely handling livestock and using pesticides, an important step in ultimately preventing occupational injury and death in Navajo farmers and ranchers. Read more about pesticide safety training program in in this Impact Sheet, Use of Model Farmers Proves Effective in Increasing Safety Practices Among Navajo Agricultural Workers.

As a result of this project, the group of stakeholders gained the knowledge, skills, and confidence necessary to plan, evaluate, and sustain future agricultural injury prevention projects on the Navajo Nation. They later secured a new five-year grant to conduct research on strategies to improve the safety of integrated pest management and pesticide application practices. This successful partnership may serve as an innovative model for increasing community involvement in the development of agricultural injury prevention interventions with underserved populations.

Do you have a story of partnership in agriculture that you can share with readers? What are some ways to mobilize partnerships to eliminate health disparities and promote worker safety and health? Please include your thoughts in the comment section below.


Alyssa Llamas, BS, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Research Translation Office.

María Sofía Lioce, M.D., M.S., is a Scientific Program Officer in the NIOSH Office of Extramural Program.

Viji Potula, Ph.D. is a Health Scientist in the NIOSH Office of Extramural Programs.


  1. Helitzer D, Willging C, Hathorn G, Benally J [2008]. Building community capacity for agricultural injury prevention in a Navajo community. J Agric Saf Health 15(1):19-35.
  2. Hill R, Dalsey E [2013]. NIOSH launches worker safety and health initiative for American Indians and Alaska Natives. IHS Prim Care Provid 38(12): 205-207.
  3. Steege A, Baron S, Marsh S, Menendez C, Myers J [2014]. Examining Occupational Health and Safety Disparities Using National Data: A Cause for Continuing Concern. Am J Ind Med 57:527-538.
Posted on by Alyssa Llamas, BS; María Sofía Lioce, M.D., M.S.; and Viji Potula, Ph.D.

One comment on “Partnership Increases Capacity in Agricultural Safety on the Navajo Nation”

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Page last reviewed: April 15, 2021
Page last updated: April 15, 2021